Is economics what you think of when you hear the word “science?”

Kelsey G. Period 5.

Did the title catch your eye? Do you believe me? Do you believe me when I say that economics is a science? If not, I am going to convince you that economics is a science using the sciences we are taught in school (physics, chemistry, biology, etc.). By looking at modern day issues, we can compare and analyze how many people’s definition of science and economics affect and improve the world around us.  Merriam Webster’s definition of science is “knowledge about or study of the natural world based on facts learned through experiments and observation (1).” It is with this study that we are able to improve things such as medicine, technology, and the latter. In today’s society, when we think of science, we think of physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, etc. How often do people think of economics when they hear the word “science?” According to Lionel Robbins, “economics is the science which studies human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses (2).” So, the question here becomes if science is meant to help society, how is economics a science?

Let us take a look at a recent world issue involving science: the ebola outbreak. Doctors raced against time to treat those affected by the terrible disease. Many new experimental drugs such as ZMapp, favipiravir, glycosidase inhibitors, and IRF-3 pathway activators were used to try to treat ebola . Many hospitals were started in ebola-ridden countries and even hospitals in the United States had wards set up specifically for ebola patients (3). According to Robbins, “For the unity of a science only shows itself in the unity of the problems it is able to solve, and such unity is not discovered until the interconnection of its explanatory principles has been established (4).” How did economics factor into helping solve, or lessen, the effects of the ebola crisis? Economists were able to predict the outcome the ebola crisis would have on the economy. Currently, countries such as Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia have deflated economies. Some are even deflated by thirty percent! Guinea’s GDP growth was predicted to fall from 4.5% to 3.5%. Knowing the economic tolls that this crisis has had on certain countries has allowed for quicker quarantining of the infected, faster moving of people out of severely affected countries, and the closure of borders to ebola-affected countries to prevent the spread to other poor countries.

Awareness of the economic damage, due to the ebola outbreak, in Africa signalled for large, successful companies to come to the rescue. Companies such as Rio Tinto and London Mining have donated money and sanitized medical equipment to the World Health Organization to distribute to poor, infected countries in Africa. Assistance to exceptionally impoverished, ebola-affected countries such as Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia had been graciously granted (5). In addition, while many in the United States and the other major developed countries called for flight bans from the countries hit hardest by the ebola outbreak, the governments of these countries refused to do so citing economic damage. The ineffective isolation would fail to prevent the spread of the terrible disease and the problems a flight ban would cause would harm the countries rather than aid the workers. In this case, capitalism, economic interests, and humanity drove donated goods, medicine, medical equipment, supplies, and other resources were brought to the areas affected by the outbreak.  Much of this assistance was donated. It was because of economist predictions, statistics, and medicine that people were able to aid countries in need (6).

Technological advancements are another example of standard science and economic progression. Cell phones, specifically Apple smart phones, are a very new, cool technological advancement. Apple’s newest phones are the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 plus. The iPhone 6 is built with an A8 chip which lets a person use their phone longer while draining the phone battery much slower. The audio on the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 plus lasts between 50 and 80 hours, HD video lasts between 11 and 14 hours, Wi-fi lasts up to 12 hours, and many other features can be used for 10 to 24 hours. The new camera on the iPhone 6 shows a very clear picture and is higher quality (7). Apple had recently surpassed economists expectations of the company only earning $39 billion in revenue by earning $41 billion in revenue. This was partially from the 39mm iPhone 6’s that were recently sold. This knowledge is parallel to Robbin’s definition of economics. Robbins believes that economics is the science which studies human behavior to predict the ends. The end for Apple in this case has to do with iPads and iPhones. The popularity in sales of the iPhone 6 significantly decreased sales of iPads. Although correlation does not necessarily mean causation, it is suggested that since iPhones are getting bigger and laptops are getting smaller, the iPads are virtually irrelevant since they are rarely changing (8). Economics and technology are both advancing and are used for the greater good of people.

Now, in the words of DA Joyce Rafferty from Legally Blonde, “Objection, why is this relevant (9)?” Why was this blog article written? It is based off of Robbins’ idea that economics is, in fact, a science. Chemistry is (according to Merriam Webster) “a science that deals with the composition, structure, and properties of substances and with the transformations that they undergo (10).” It is used to create and mix important medicines, like the ones used during the ebola crisis. Physics, also according to Merriam-Webster, is “a science that deals with matter and energy and their interactions (11).” There was and is much physics involved in making and developing phones, especially smart phones. Both of these forms of science involve experiments, guess-and-check, research, observation, and more just to test out a theory or idea. Economics works the same way. Referring back to a quote used earlier in the article: “Economics is the science which studies human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses (12).” There is a prediction made by an economist about a certain country’s economy, ordinarily or during a time of crisis, that is observed over time and provides a final end or conclusion (in terms of the scientific method). This conclusion is used to help the human race figure out problems in society, government, and with the economy. Since science is used to benefit people, like Lionel Robbins said, economics is easily argued to be a science.

End Notes

  1. “Science.” Merriam-Webster. January 1, 2014. Accessed December 10, 2014.
  2. Robbins, Lionel. “Chapter 1: The Subject-Matter of Economics.” In An Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science. 2d ed. London: Macmillan, 1935.
  3. Clark, Patterson. “Experimental Drugs Used for Ebola.” Washington Post. October 7, 2014. Accessed December 8, 2014.
  4. Robbins, Lionel. “Chapter 1: The Subject-Matter of Economics.” In An Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science. 2d ed. London: Macmillan, 1935.
  5. Hamilton, Richard. “The Economic Impact of Ebola.” BBC News. August 20, 2014. Accessed December 8, 2014.
  6. Silver, Nate. “Why An Ebola Flight Ban Wouldn’t Work.” Five Thirty Eight. October 17, 2014. Accessed December 10, 2014.
  7. “Technology Hugely Powerful. Enormously Efficient.” Apple. January 1, 2014. Accessed December 9, 2014.
  8. “IPhone Mania.” The Economist. October 21, 2014. Accessed December 9, 2014.
  9. “Legally Blonde Quotes.” IMDb. Accessed December 10, 2014.
  10. “Chemistry.” Merriam-Webster. January 1, 2014. Accessed December 10, 2014.
  11. “Physics.” Merriam-Webster. January 1, 2014. Accessed December 10, 2014.
  12. Robbins, Lionel. “Chapter 1: The Subject-Matter of Economics.” In An Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science. 2d ed. London: Macmillan, 1935.

Bibliography

“Chemistry.” Merriam-Webster. January 1, 2014. Accessed December 10, 2014.

Clark, Patterson. “Experimental Drugs Used for Ebola.” Washington Post. October 7, 2014. Accessed December 8, 2014.

Hamilton, Richard. “The Economic Impact of Ebola.” BBC News. August 20, 2014. Accessed December 8, 2014.

“IPhone Mania.” The Economist. October 21, 2014. Accessed December 9, 2014.

“Legally Blonde Quotes.” IMDb. Accessed December 10, 2014.

“Physics.” Merriam-Webster. January 1, 2014. Accessed December 10, 2014.

Robbins, Lionel. “Chapter 1: The Subject-Matter of Economics.” In An Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science. 2d ed. London: Macmillan, 1935.

“Technology Hugely Powerful. Enormously Efficient.” Apple. January 1, 2014. Accessed December 9, 2014.

“Science.” Merriam-Webster. January 1, 2014. Accessed December 10, 2014.

Silver, Nate. “Why An Ebola Flight Ban Wouldn’t Work.” Five Thirty Eight. October 17, 2014. Accessed December 10, 2014.

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